Game On: A New Model To Teach Entrepreneurship Computer simulation games have long been popular with young adult learners who, as a generation with extended exposure to modern video games, are particularly receptive to a computer-enhanced learning platforms.

By Juris Ulmanis

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You can't teach someone how to be an entrepreneur from a textbook or a lecture. I know, I've tried. As a business school professor, I know that learning-by-doing is the only way to allow lessons to sink in deeply. How else can you teach creativity, risk-taking, and problem-solving, but with first-hand learning?

For the past 10 years, I've used simulations in the classroom coupled with the Harvard case-method approach to get as close to the feeling of being an entrepreneur as possible. But even these approaches are limited. Students will write business plans that are totally unrealistic, with no fact-based analysis, so they are never sound. The first time they visit a client, they'll quickly see that their whole plan isn't viable. Schools with business incubators where students make products and labs or where students talk to customers are a little closer to reality, but these take time (even years), to develop. It's a much longer learning process than a semester course. Guest speakers can serve as cheerleaders as they share their successes and failures, but in my opinion there's no real benefit to students other than to serve as inspiration. Internships with businesses are great in theory, but the reality is that often students are relegated to menial tasks with no real window to the inner workings and decision-making processes. Businesses are chaotic with too many moving variables to adequately anticipate in any static student-written business plan, this is why the innovation of using computer games as entrepreneurial teaching tools are so groundbreaking. Learning by gaming is a game-changer in business education!

Computer simulation games have long been popular with young adult learners who, as a generation with extended exposure to modern video games, are particularly receptive to a computer-enhanced learning platforms. Employing the powerful complement of gamification to traditional business school teaching results in lessons that are productive, meaningful, engaging, and fun. Unlike in real life where there are real world consequences to decisions, computer simulation games allow students to create and run a business, be tested by challenges and setbacks, take leaps and reap rewards, all in a dynamic, rapidly changing environment that is completely risk-free. By incorporating e-learning technology and game play in business education modeling, lessons become more relevant and outcomes are measurable.

When students think of the risk-taking required in entrepreneurship, they look to models like Steve Jobs or Richard Branson. Although Branson's "Screw it, let's do it" mantra may sound catchy, his real focus is imagining worst case scenarios to assess true risk. What most students don't understand is that successful entrepreneurs try to minimize risk. They think of all the things that can go wrong and then they try to compensate for these possibilities.

In my own experience, whether climbing the world's highest mountains or crossing Greenland on skis, extreme adventures are at face-value extremely risky, but require the same risk-assessment that successful entrepreneurs employ. I practice and train for all the things that can go wrong. I anticipate failure and create a Plan-B and Plan-C. Every campsite I prepare, I think of the risks that can happen through the night with changing conditions and shifting weather patterns. I think of what can go wrong the next morning when we continue up the mountain or across the ice, what has changed in our stamina and strength levels, how has the snow surface changed with sunshine or wind? It's a juggling act of risk-assessment and rapid response with life-or-death consequences to wrong decisions. It's exhilarating and terrifying and exactly the same visceral response that entrepreneurs face.

Entrepreneurs thrive in chaos. They relish meeting the challenges of an ever-changing environment with rapidly moving parts. Their leadership is tested and honed by the mistakes they make and the lessons they learn from failure. Practicing those lessons and making those decisions in game-play simulations make those inevitable failures risk-free.

Old school ways of teaching this through models couldn't possibly account for all the variable new technology can offer. Learning through old school printed textbooks and sitting in lecture halls can never be as flexible and engaging as virtual games and distance learning with competitors from around the world in testing their skills in tournaments. By employing simulation games to test students through increasingly challenging levels coupled with the guidance of professors to help students reflect and analyze what went well and what didn't, business schools and motivated independent learners alike have an opportunity to get closer to the reality of entrepreneurship in a low-cost, no-risk way. Gamification of learning creates the mindset of what it means to be an entrepreneur: how to anticipate the variables, adapt to an ever-shifting landscape, and how to brilliantly thrive in chaos.
Juris Ulmanis

Co-founder, Experiential Simulations

Experiential learning advocate Juris Ulmanis has spent the past decade teaching entrepreneur- ship, marketing, and international business courses as a professor in universities across Europe. A former Motorolla executive for 18 years in Europe and the U.S., Ulmanis left the company to explore his own entrepreneuria lideas as a co-founder, including his latest experimental learning and simulation company: Experiential Simulations. In demand as a speaker and media commentator, Ulmanis trains, consults, and mentors business leaders in entrepreneurship. The Vice-Chairman of the European Scout Foundation, he’s a champion of the organization’s ability to create creative leaders and embraces every risk-taking opportunity to reap the rich rewards of success.


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